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Durango looking at pot moratorium

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Over-the-counter sales of recreational marijuana likely won’t become legal in Durango until June 2014 because a moratorium will be needed to work out the many details and ramifications of Amendment 64, officials suggested Tuesday during a City Council study session.

The Colorado constitutional amendment, which legalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana as well as the retail sale of pot, got 62 percent of the vote in La Plata County and about 65 percent of the vote within the city of Durango in November.

Because of voter support for legalized pot, City Councilors emphasized they were not out to ban the sale of nonmedical pot forever.

“We’re just trying to get a plan together,” Councilor Sweetie Marbury said.

City Attorney David Smith said state laws on the implementation of Amendment 64 are hazy, noting that they “were slapped together” during the last days of the legislative session. Smith expects the regulations will need to be refined and clarified during the next legislative session in spring 2014.

Under current law, businesses can apply as soon as October for a state license to sell recreational marijuana in January 2014 at the earliest.

But the state licenses also are conditional on approval of local municipalities, which can choose to enact moratoriums to delay the opening of pot shops or choose not to allow them.

Nineteen cities in Colorado already have imposed moratoriums on retail pot sales. Some also have banned marijuana social clubs, according to a memo from Smith.

A local moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses would be in addition to Durango’s moratorium on new business licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries, which is in effect through the end of year.

Officials said they need the marijuana timeout because of the many pending issues and policy questions.

For example, Colorado voters in November will be asked to approve a 15 percent excise tax on nonmedical marijuana and up to a 15 percent special sales tax on nonmedical marijuana.

Local municipalities also could impose a special sales tax, which City Manager Ron LeBlanc suggested would be a “marijuana-access fee.”

The amount of taxes on recreational marijuana likely will determine how many retailers get into the business, officials said.

While the tax revenue from marijuana is supposed to go toward school construction, some fear that pot sales will return to the black market or “the street” if the taxes are too onerous.

Durango also could choose to limit recreational marijuana sales to the existing 10 medical marijuana dispensaries in town. Officials wondered if some medical marijuana businesses would convert to recreational sales only.

If medical marijuana dispensaries did go into the recreational side of the business, they would have set up separate entrances, which officials predicted would be too much of a hardship.

Smith wondered if the city would need to zone recreational marijuana to keep pot shops out of high-visibility areas such as Main Avenue.

So far, Durango has been lucky with its medical marijuana businesses, Smith said.

“You don’t drive down Main Avenue and think marijuana is rampant in Durango,” he said.

There are other kinds of business that must be regulated, such as grow centers because marijuana grown for recreation must be kept separate from pot grown for medical marijuana.

The city also could legalize lounges where people gather to smoke pot.

Another type of business is the testing center. Marbury wondered if it was the marijuana equivalent of a “wine-tasting room.”

Instead, it is supposed to be a lab where the potency of marijuana could be measured for labeling purposes so consumers would know how strong their marijuana is, much like a wine label that says 12 percent alcohol.

The marijuana label would indicate just “how good are these brownies?” Councilor Dean Brookie joked.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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